Domestic abuse victims report violence to police several times before action

<span>Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA</span>
Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA

Domestic abuse victims are reporting abuse to the police several times before appropriate action is taken, with those from black and ethnic minority backgrounds disproportionately dismissed and sidelined, according to new research.

The research has been carried out by the charity Victim Support – the country’s biggest provider of domestic abuse services. More than 1,000 women (1,004) who have experienced domestic abuse were polled, at least 150 of them women of colour.

The new data has been published to coincide with 16 days of activism against gender-based violence, led by civil society organisations and supported by the UN, which began on Friday.

According to new government data published on Friday from the Crime Survey for England and Wales, an estimated 6.9% of women and 3% of men experienced domestic abuse in the year ending March 2022 – 1.7 million women and 699,000 men. The new data shows no significant change in the prevalence of domestic violence in the last year.

The Victim Support research found:

  • More than half of all respondents – 53% – reported an instance of domestic abuse at least twice before they felt appropriate action was taken by the police.

  • Nearly a quarter – 24% – reported an instance of domestic abuse to the police three times or more before appropriate action was taken.

  • More than one in 10 – 12% – said that they do not feel appropriate action was ever taken.

  • When reporting domestic abuse, almost half – 48% – of black and ethnic minority respondents felt that the police treated them differently from other people because of their ethnic background or heritage.

“I believe I was dealt with wrongly by the police because I’m from an ethnic minority,” a 31-year-old woman told the Guardian. Her former partner pleaded guilty to abusing her in court earlier this month.

“I’m black, I’m 5ft 10in tall and I’m articulate. The police kept saying to me: ‘You’re strong.’ Why am I strong? Just because I look OK on the outside doesn’t mean I’m feeling OK on the inside. I’ve been diagnosed with severe trauma, anxiety and PTSD.”

Her former partner began to physically abuse her in December 2021. He was also exercising coercive control over her, hacking her phone so that any messages she received popped up in real time on his laptop. He threatened to circulate intimate photos of her and pulled her hair out. He also knocked out two of her front teeth and fractured some of her bottom teeth. She still has fragments of teeth embedded in her gums.

She said that while he was prosecuted and pleaded guilty she was not kept informed about what was happening with the case. “I have lost faith in the criminal justice system,” she said.

“Victims come in different shapes, sizes, colours and genders – there is no blueprint. But abusers have the same blueprint and they all speak the same language. Abusers don’t change. They just learn how to cover things up better.”

Valerie Wise, national domestic abuse lead at Victim Support, said: “The police receive a call for help relating to domestic abuse every 30 seconds. It takes a huge amount of courage to come forward – victims need to know that their report will be handled with the upmost seriousness, and not dismissed.

“The idea that someone’s race or appearance could impact the care they receive and their access to justice is appalling. On average, domestic abuse leads to two women being murdered every week in England and Wales – the stakes are too high for the police to not be getting this right every time.”